As the global population continues to gravitate to an urbanized world, the value of open space in metropolitan areas continues to grow. An important catalyst for economic development and a stimulus for breathing life into neighborhoods, the most cherished form of public infrastructure is green spaces – serving as open-air living rooms and outdoor leisure centers. Although availability can be somewhat limited, research increasingly shows that exposure to parks and nature – even just 15 minutes per day – enhances happiness, increases creativity and improves overall well-being.

Intuitively, we all understand the multitude of social, environmental and economic advantages of green spaces in the public realm, but since parks are often inequitably distributed in many cities, only a limited population stands to benefit from them. Studies suggest that one in three Americans (more than 100 million people) do not have a park located within a 10-minute walk from their homes and for residents in low-income areas the numbers are even higher. In addition to a lack of available facilities, these populations also experience higher rates of obesity and illness in their neighborhoods. In contrast, use of neighborhood parks increases by 400 percent when located within an acceptable half-mile walk.

To reduce barriers between residents and nature, three organizations set an ambitious goal for every U.S. resident to have a high-quality park or green space within a 10-minute walk (or half-mile) from their home. The Trust for Public Land (TRL), Urban Land Institute (ULI) and National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) launched the 10-Minute Walk Campaign, a nationwide movement sparking worldwide discussions on how community structure impacts human health. The campaign promotes equitable access to high-quality parks, open space, nature and connected pedestrian frameworks, such as trails.

Shortly after TPL, ULI, and NRPA kicked off the campaign, a bipartisan group of nearly 200 U.S. mayors joined the effort declaring public parks a priority. Mayors from New York to Los Angeles and cities in between are supporting zoning changes and city planning to encourage new park development while also improving existing parks with increased funding and programming. The U.S. Conference of Mayors also unanimously passed a resolution urging all mayors to actively pursue the goal of a 10-minute walk to a local park with San Francisco becoming the first U.S. city where 100 percent of locals have a park within a half-mile walk.

Forward-thinking officials are allocating funds toward infrastructure improvements such as wider sidewalks and bike lanes, along with new walking trails and greenways to ensure communities have improved park systems and outdoor environments. As landscape architects, we are focused on developing creative alternatives that are activity-driven and consider accessibility, comfort and safety within the urban setting. Scenic gateways that address adjacent land uses and designing canopied streets, vertical gardens, parks and architecturally integrated landscapes serve as an extension of the community. These civic spaces become stages for place-based activities and aesthetically contribute to the overall positive health and well-being of communities.

Although specific to the U.S., the 10-Minute Walk vision is a mindset that everyone can adopt and learn from. Green spaces need not be limited to rural and suburban areas. Creative solutions for integrating parks and nature into dense downtown areas must continue to evolve – whether it be soccer fields, gardens and trails co-located with public transit, living green roofs, or reimagined parking structures that incorporate natural elements. By continuing to create and renovate destination-level parks that attract people and bring them outdoors – it becomes possible to deliver a healthier, active lifestyle for all. For more information please reach out to us [email protected].